Case Study: Switzerland and their approach to road safety

Case Study: Switzerland and their approach to road safety

Switzerland is one of the safest countries to drive through in the world. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Road Safety Report recorded 4.7 road fatalities per 100,000 vehicles.

Road fatalities have dropped more than 70% since 1990 in Switzerland1. This is heavily influenced by regulations such as safer vehicles, low alcohol limits and mandatory daytime headlights. The ‘Via Secura’ initiative which started in 2012 had a large impact on the reduction of road fatalities; it aims to take action in three areas:

  • Awareness
  • Road user behaviour
  • Vehicle safety and road infrastructure

We wanted to learn more about Switzerland’s overall road safety strategy, and what the UK can learn and then implement.

Rules of the road: Switzerland’s laws

Enforcement of traffic regulations and fines are much heavier than in the UK, with the help of law enforcement - but they’re implemented differently, as stated below.

Headlights

In Switzerland, it’s compulsory to have headlights on, even during daytime hours – failure to comply will lead to a fine. Having headlights on will increase the chances of other drivers and road users seeing other vehicles.

Drink-driving

Switzerland has a lower tolerance for blood alcohol content (BAC). The UK will fine drivers from a BAC above 80mg, whereas the minimum BAC limit in Switzerland is 50mg. Swiss drivers exceeding a BAC of 80mg will automatically get a three month ban, then either a fine or three year prison sentence. Novice drivers (in the first three years) have to follow a zero-alcohol limit on the roads. Lucy Amos, Research Advisor at Brake, told us that the charity is calling for a zero-tolerance approach towards drink-driving in the UK - after successes in Scotland on their reduced BAC levels.

Scotland lowered its limit to 50mg in December 2014, and police figures showed a 12.5% decrease in drink-drive offences in the first nine months.

Speed

Switzerland are known for their heavy fines for drivers caught speeding; rather than basing fines on the additional speed, it’s based on the income of that driver – which can lead to a hefty payout. Those who are caught driving too fast also put themselves at risk of instantly losing their license.

Infrastructure

The rising number of vehicles on roads, regardless of what country you’re in, means more money is needed for road maintenance and upgrades. Switzerland is home to many tunnels that run through their world-famous Alps, including the Gotthard Road Tunnel that runs for almost 17km (10.5 miles), which will need regular maintenance.

We compared infrastructure budgets and length of road for both countries, to see how much the UK and Switzerland spend a year on their roads.

 

UK

Switzerland

Number of registered cars (WHO data¹)

35,582,650

5,693,642

Total length of road (miles)

245,900

44,405

Infrastructure budget/year (£mil)

3,040

6,900

Estimated budget per mile of road (£)

12,408

155,387

The Swiss government have several funds set up to ensure road maintenance is kept up, such as their Infrastructure Fund (IF) and the National Road and Agglomeration Transport Fund (NAF). They’re made up of tax funds from car and fuel tax, as well as road tolls and mineral oil tax surcharge.

Amos discusses the importance of efficient road maintenance: “poor quality roads with faded road markings, potholes and poor quality signage can be dangerous to road users and can cause road crashes”.

What can we learn from Switzerland?

Clearly budget has an impact on the quality of road infrastructure, such as reducing damage to vehicles and decreasing chances of road accidents, Amos told us that she believes, “the UK should provide greater resources to those responsible for road maintenance (local authorities and Highway England). This will ensure poor quality roads do not contribute to our road casualty levels and that drivers can stay safe behind the wheel.”

Small changes to current strategies and altering driver attitudes, could be what’s needed to prevent a live-changing accident from happening, and instead a safe every day journey taking place.

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Additional Sources

[1]www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/download/7515011ec041.pdf?expires=1478792248&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=2CE44764C628823ACFFDB156A3CF9B03
[2]www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/
www.gov.uk/government/news/department-for-transports-settlement-at-the-spending-review-2015
www.bfs.admin.ch/bfs/fr/home/statistiques/mobilite-transports/couts-financement/route-mobilite-douce.html
www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice/switzerland/safety-and-security
www.ch.ch/en/traffic-regulations-switzerland/
www.speedingeurope.com/switzerland/

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